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Allison Gauss

The Right Combo for Improving Donor Retention

Fact: It costs more to acquire a new donor than retain an existing one.

Fact: Overall donor retention from a large study was 43%.

Fact: For first-time donors, that statistic drops to 27%. That means you’re losing almost ¾ of your hard-won donors.

Statistics like these probably aren’t new or surprising to you. Donor retention is a perpetual concern for nonprofits, who are always trying to keep those donors from leaving. And maybe that mindset is part of the problem.

Understandably, the focus for nonprofit organizations is on their cause and their mission. Compared to this, donor relations can feel like a simple matter of housekeeping, a chore to take care of. Ultimately, many organizations emphasize avoiding dissatisfaction. What if, instead, you thought of donor relations as delivering the experience or feeling donors want?

In this blog post, we’re going to look at donor retention through the lens of delivering value to the donor. Our goal is to find out what donors want from the experience of giving and why they give, and then use our understanding of this information to make sure they want to do so again.

Why Donors Give

• To make a difference – Donors give to your cause because they want to change something, to accomplish something. Whether it’s to get vaccinations to people who need them, protect the rainforest, or feed the hungry, they give because they think their money can make a difference.

53% of donors noted the importance of a nonprofit “achieving and communicating measurable results.

• Emotional Affect – Being emotionally effected by an appeal can be a huge factor in someone’s decision to donate. Researchers studying how emotion affects donation decisions found that “people who experience stronger negative arousal in the face of identified victims are more likely to donate money. The donation amount, on the other hand, is also dependent on the degree to which the donor empathizes with the victim.” In other words, appeals that create strong feelings and cause the donor to empathize with constituents can be more effective. (The Science of Giving, pg 175).

• Personal Connection – It’s no secret that people tend to support causes they are personally connected with. This is connected with the emotional factor of giving. A donation to a cancer charity, for example, might be partially driven by the emotion that comes with thinking of a relative with a disease. In peer-to-peer fundraising, this can also apply to someone who donates simply because someone they care about is fundraising. They may not personally connect with the cause, but they want to help the fundraiser succeed.

Deliver What They Want

If you want a donor to give again, you need to make the first experience a good one. Show them that the intent of their gift (to make a difference, support a loved one) was achieved. Here are a few common follow up practices that can be focused to make a donor want to keep giving.

1. Thank You

This isn’t a revolutionary concept. We’ve been trained since childhood to say “thank you” to gifts. What you need to remember when thanking a donor is that this communication is a chance to give them what they wanted from the experience. A thank you, when delivered sincerely, can tell a donor “your gift really made a difference for our organization, for our people in the field, and for the issues we’re solving.” Saying “thank you” isn’t a formality, it’s an opportunity.

2. Fresh Impact Stories

The donors have spoken. When asked what type of communications they would like to receive following a gift, the majority say they want impact stories. They want to see the results their donation helped produce. This, of course, fits right in to the desire to make a difference, but impact stories can also be emotional experiences. Effectively telling the story of someone your organization helped can make donors feel good about their involvement.

It’s important, however, to remember to keep collecting and sending out impact stories. If you’ve been using the same case study for three years, donors might get bored and ignore it. Or worse yet, they might think you haven’t accomplished anything since. Ask your programming staff to be on the lookout for the kind of touching, empowering stories that donors want.

3. Be Reliable, Not Predictable

I’ve written in the past that donors shouldn’t have to wonder if their credit card information is safe or whether you received their gift. Your organization should be trustworthy and professional. But reliable doesn’t mean doing and saying the same thing over and over again.

Some of the most memorable communications with donors are the ones that surprise them. Take a look over the messages you’ve sent your email list in the last six months. You’ll probably find some mix of impact stories, newsletters, and appeals. Do you have any funny messages? Any with beautiful imagery? Are there any that have a distinctly different style or tone?

While it is important to have a consistent, reliable line of communication, you also need to add a little surprise or excitement once in a while. Liberty in North Korea is particularly skilled in delivering branded emails with surprising images and references. What little surprises would delight your donors?

From Email to Fundraiser

Because nonprofit staff are so committed and passionate about their causes, it can be easy to overlook the donor relationship. But donors need reassurance that their gift matters and your organization is worth their investment. You probably already say “thank you” to donors, but taking some time to think about what donors want and how you can give it to them can boost retention. That stable support makes financial sense and helps build long-term partnerships for real change.

33% of All Online Donations Are Made in December

Image Credit: Eddie Welker

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